December 10, 2006
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 3:1–3:6
Festival of Christ the King
Get ready! Be prepared! That seems to be the message that we hear in the world around us this time of year. On the television, in the stores. If you go to the supermarket, you'll be encouraged to get ready, to be prepared, because you need to have your "turducken" for your "holiday meal." (I'm still trying to get my friends to have a turducken for Christmas dinner.) You need to be prepared to host all those guests that are coming over. You need to stock up on all those supplies that are required for the season. If you listen, you might hear the voice of one calling out - on the radio - Ronnie Mervis! "You must get a diamond for your loved one!"
All kinds of preparations must be made. If you're having friends or family over to your home, you need to make sure that you do have enough food, that the extra beds are made, that you do have the house cleaned. If you're a student, then the holiday break might come as a double-edged sword: not only do you get some time off, you also have exams or assignments due, either before or after the break. You need to get ready. You need to prepare. Because the time is growing short.
But how much of our preparation in this time of year is really getting us ready for Christmas? How much of all this is getting us ready for the coming of the Lord? We have opportunities, to be sure. Here at St. John's, we just held a Festival of Carols last night. We sang songs and saw the Nativity story played out. Using words older than ourselves, we remembered what God has done. We gathered together around His Word. We have that opportunity now: during these Sundays of Advent, here in worship.
Some of you have the opportunity in your homes, with your families, in the Advent traditions that you observe. In my family, we'd break out the family Advent calendar that had been tucked away in the basement. It featured a wooden cutout of a Christmas tree, with 24 small nails for hanging ornaments. We'd gather together each day and take one of the small ornaments, each representing a different gift that God has given us. A tiny dog, reminding us of the pets in our families. A stack of books, the gift of education. The last ornament would be a little baby-in-a-manger: the central gift that God gave us that first Christmas. We'd give thanks in a prayer as we put each of these ornaments on the calendar tree.
In today's Gospel text, Luke tells us about John the Baptizer's arrival on the scene. Because John would prepare the way for Jesus: not just for the first Christmas, but for the mission that Jesus was going to accomplish. John's story was preparation for Jesus' story. His parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were getting on in years and they had no child. They prayed to God to give them a baby, but no baby came. But God had heard their prayer. He would give them a son: this son would be the prophet of the Most High God, and his name would John. The baby's father was struck dumb as a sign of what God would do, until the time that the baby was born and named. When Zechariah's tongue was finally loosed, he prophesied, proclaiming the greatness of God and telling forth John's mission.
In the wilderness, John proclaims the message that the King is coming. "Get ready! Be prepared!" John baptizes in the region around the Jordan River, the point of entry into the Promised Land oh-so-long-ago for the people of the Exodus from Egypt. This river is now a point of preparation. John's baptism was a baptism of repentance, different from what we have in Christian baptism. In John's baptism, people would turn away from their sin. But why all this preparation? Why did the people then need to be prepared? Why did they need to make ready the way of the king, take the crooked and make it straight, fill in the valleys and level the mountains? Because things were not as they were meant to be.
Not much of a sermon, then, is it? Get ready! Be prepared! But John's message to the people then remains the same for us now. But why do we need to repent, to get ready? We're in church. We're Christians. What's more, we're Lutheran Christians!
For what do we need preparation? When John issued his call to repentance, we learn that many people did listen. They were sinners: the tax collectors, the outcasts of society. They heard God's message and knew that they needed to repent - literally, "to turn away" - from their sin, from the things that they had set up to assure themselves. But many did not listen. Oddly enough, many of those were the leaders of the people: the chief priests, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, the ones who thought they had this religion thing down-pat. They were confident that they had it right, that they were ready, they were prepared. Who was this voice in the wilderness calling out that they needed to repent? Calling out that the king was coming? We, too, need to get ready, to be prepared.
When the king comes, as we heard in our first reading [Mal. 3:1-4], he will sit as a refiner, as one who purifies. Taking the silver that is tarnished and impure, transforming it into what is was meant to be, burning away the dross. Repentance, this preparation for the coming of the king, is not easy. It is again a turning away: turning away from the sin that clings so closely to us. And on our own, we have no hope of true repentance, because we like to sin! It's attractive. But when we start to see the effects of our sin on our lives, we might start to wonder if we can ever escape. And we can't. That's the law. That's the message that John brought to the people.
However, that is not the entirety of the message that John proclaimed. John's baptism what not just a baptism of repentance, but a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins! If you're in one of our confirmation classes right now, here's a Christmas gift come early: the theme of this sermon, which you can write down on your Worship Notes and circle: Repent, for the King is coming!
And there's the Gospel: the King is coming. The one who was coming after John brought the forgiveness that would be in John's baptism. The one who was greater than John: Jesus. He gives that forgiveness to each and every one of us. He purchased it for us. And he makes our repentance, our genuine repentance - turning away from sin - possible. Because he frees us from sin. He is the one who sits as the refiner, the purifier, who changes us. Just as the Jordan was the point of entry into the Promised Land, our baptism is the point of entry into the promised family of God. We are adopted, we are changed. What's more, Christ is now with us. As we come to his table to receive the gift of his body and blood, he prepares us.
The One Who is, Who was, and Who is to come gets us ready. He prepares us, so that now, in the days ahead, as we head out into the supermarkets of the world to get our turduckens, to make our preparations during this Advent season, as we get ready for the coming Christmas: remember that you are being made ready, that you are being prepared for the One who is coming.
Repent, for the King is coming!